March 12, 2019

Making a Big Revision? Stitching Our Story’s Rips Together

Apple on books with text: Deepen Your Craft with Resident Writing Coach Jami Gold (at Writers Helping Writers)

It’s time for another one of my guest posts over at Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Writers Helping Writers site. As one of their Resident Writing Coaches, I’ve previously shared:

With this turn for another coaching article at WHW, I’m taking a look at one of the problems we encounter with major revisions. We often have to rip our story apart before we can make our fixes, and that means we have to be careful when putting our story back together again.

Today we’re going to dig into that process: How can we make sure we’ve smoothed out the stitches between the old and new parts of our story?

The Messy Process of Revisions

Revisions go deeper than the later stages of editing. In the later stages, editing entails changing a word here or a sentence there, which usually won’t cause problems throughout the rest of our story.

But the revision stage comes first, and those changes are much more about the big picture:

  • Can character A and character B be combined?
  • What’s the character’s motivation?
  • Can this subplot be deleted?

When we make those kinds of changes, the stitches holding our story together rip and become visible:

  • When we combine characters A and B, who are they talking to and why are they answering their own questions in this scene?
  • If the character is motivated by their backstory wound, why wouldn’t they have taken the step during the last chapter, when the issue first came up?
  • If the subplot is deleted, what triggers the character to get involved in the next scene?

Revisions can get complicated, and we often have to hold many story threads in our head. But that means there’s a risk we’re going to lose some of the threads or the stitching between the old and new stuff won’t be smooth.

How Can We Recognize and Repair Frayed Story Threads?

“Cause and effect” holds our story together—and makes revisions difficult. Every event in our story is an effect of the cause-events that came before. And every event is a cause for the effect-events that come after.

How can we stitch our story back together after a big revision? Click To TweetWhether we plot in advance or write by the seat of our pants, all it takes is one big revision attempting to fix problems with the transition from our imagination to the page, and we’re stuck with random strings of our story elements sticking out every which way like a used toothbrush. No matter how organized we were during drafting, it’s often been a while between our draft and our revisions.

Can we really remember all the ways that changing character A’s job, backstory wound, or false belief affects the rest of the story? Or if it was logical for scene A to lead to scene B, how do we make it equally logical for scene A to now lead to our new scene B2? And then for scene B2 to now lead to the old scene C?

Add in a dragged out or interrupted revision process, and any threads we were holding in our head can be lost again. For countless reasons, we might struggle with finding all those broken strings. Suffice it to say that a little guidance on where to look for those frayed threads might be helpful. *smile*

Writers Helping Writers: Resident Writing Coach Program

Story Threads: Fixing Rips in Our Story

Come join me at WHW above, where I’m sharing:

  • why revisions are harder than an easy delete or insert
  • what it means to think of story elements as threads
  • 2 things that can help us before we get lost in the revision mess
  • 4 basic questions to help repair frayed threads
  • 10 places frayed threads lurk and how we can recognize problems beyond the basics

P.S. And check my follow-up post if you’d like to know more about how to track our changes during a big revision.

Have you made big revisions before? Did you struggle with putting the pieces back together? Which broken aspects are hardest for you to recognize? What helped you find and fix them the most? Can you think of other places broken threads hide out in our story? (My WHW posts are limited in word count, but I’m happy to go deeper here if anyone wants more info. *smile*)

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Definitely avoid episodic writing!


[…] couple of weeks ago, I shared some ideas about how we can stitch pieces of our story together after we make big revisions. As I mentioned, anytime we make a lot of changes to our story, we have to rip our story apart to […]

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